Google’s Rhys Williams on navigating digital marketing’s shifts in the ‘new abnormal’ – Mumbrella

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Mumbrella speaks to Google’s Rhys Williams, Managing Director, Sales Specialists, Australia & New Zealand, about his career, the ‘new abnormal’, and navigating the tectonic shifts underway in the world of digital advertising.
The ad-supported internet has transformed every aspect of peoples’ lives and created new opportunities for publishers, creators and website owners. As digital advertising evolves with changing consumer expectations and regulatory conditions, businesses need to adapt their approaches. Mumbrella spoke with Rhys Williams, Google Australia and New Zealand’s Managing Director of Sales Specialists, about the shifts in digital marketing and how automation can help businesses future-proof their advertising.

Williams has had an extensive career anchored in media and technology – his two passions. After graduating from the University of Western Sydney with a commerce degree, majoring in marketing, Williams had visions of working in a classic marketer-style role in an FMCG brand. But things didn’t exactly go as expected.
Following an initial stint working in advertising sales in magazines and media buying for theatrical productions, Williams moved to London right at the start of the dotcom boom, which “was a crazy ride of startups”. It was here he found his passion and excitement for technology, the web and digital, and discovered his ability to bridge the gap between commercial and technical.
After spending 5 years in London, he returned home to Australia and joined global publisher Haymarket Media, running digital sales and operations in Australia and then across APAC. “It was when online advertising was in its infancy and the learning curve was fast, with lots of opportunity to shape the future,” he says.
Now on Google Australia and New Zealand’s leadership team, he leads a highly sought-after team of media specialists that work with leading AUNZ advertisers and agencies to help them get the most out of digital advertising. “I am also proud to represent Google on the IAB Board, and have done so for the last four years,” he says. 
 
Rhys Williams, Google Australia and New Zealand’s Managing Director of Sales Specialists
One of the biggest shifts Williams has seen in marketing is the rise of automation. Starting out as a neat way to get easy efficiencies, businesses soon realised the benefits of machine learning with improvements in productivity, efficiency, and speed. 
Williams insists automation shifted to truly ‘must have’ when we moved beyond efficiencies to driving effective business results. Automation, powered by machine learning and AI, is where the algorithm learns and gets better over time to deliver results that just aren’t possible through a manual process. 
For example, to optimise Google Search campaigns historically, if there were twenty options for ten optimisation areas (e.g. keywords, creative, landing page, or maximum bid), you’d have 200 variations to test. “Without automation, you would have to sit there every week and pick the best performing to optimise, and then continue to optimise further throughout the week. Automation can do this for you, using machine learning to optimise the variables to reach the campaign goals you’ve set”, Williams says. 
Automation also helps businesses meet consumers where they are, reacting to changing preferences in real time. We know Australians are more diverse than ever, with Williams saying “there is no longer an ‘average Aussie’.” Looking at ABS data from the past 10 years, nearly 6 million Australians speak a language other than English at home, and over 1 in 3 Australians are born overseas. This changing consumer landscape was further accelerated by the global pandemic and macroeconomic uncertainty, like the accelerated growth in shopping online. For example, compared to 2020, in the first 6 months of 2022, there has been a 50%+ increase in the use of click and collect services. “It’s safe to say we are living in a ‘new abnormal’,” Williams says.  Predicting and reacting to changing consumer behaviour in real time is getting increasingly difficult. 
Automation can help businesses react to these changes and deliver personalisation in a privacy-safe way. Using first-party data is key, Williams says, to understand customers’ preferences and put the insights first. Automation can then supercharge creative messaging – helping businesses connect the best message to the right customer at the right time.
It’s worth noting that automation is only as good as the people directing it, Williams adds. “We should look at automation as ‘human plus machine’. Knowledge of the customer, insights, creativity and, probably most importantly, the business objectives you want to drive are what directs the machine.” 
From quick service restaurants, to retailing, to telcos, insurance and travel, Williams says automation is now used to power marketing across a range of industries. Businesses are  embracing automated solutions to drive their marketing and business objectives, as they aim to future-proof their businesses. 
A key challenge for businesses today is reaching people effectively across often complex customer journeys and meeting their expectations. Williams says, “we’re no longer in a simple linear path to purchase… and consumers move between channels seamlessly and at more speed than ever.” This is where marketing automation solutions use machine learning to assess audience signals in real time and at scale. Williams notes the powerful story of how Luxury Escapes used Performance Max, a goal-based campaign, to identify first-time Australian customers and connect them with getaways fit for their wanderlust; increasing new customer revenue by 45%. 
Additionally, Williams comments on the need for businesses to deliver the right message at the right time at the right place in a personalised way across what might be millions of consumers in any brand’s consideration set. This is especially true on Google Search, with billions of people turning to it daily for relevant information, clarity, and trust. A ‘simple but powerful’ example, Williams celebrates is of Telstra’s agency, Resolution Digital. They used broad match keywords and Smart Bidding to connect Telstra with more consumers and increase their online orders by 29%. 
It’s worth noting that automation has the power to support performance and brand building simultaneously, Williams says. On YouTube, automation can help optimise variables beyond just formats – including targeting, audiences, frequency. Williams shares this interview of Mark Ritson and Menulog CMO Simon Chen discussing how Menulog used YouTube’s automation-powered solutions in their ‘Did Somebody Say’ campaign with Snoop Dog and Baker Boy. Noting they were able to achieve four marketing objectives, Williams says, “YouTube works even harder to more effectively deliver both short and long term objectives.”
Williams provides three simple ways businesses can use automation to improve their marketing, with the first being not to take a ‘wait and see’ approach. 
“You need to be future-proofing now,” he says. “Set mid to long-term goals to build your capabilities and then work to get there. Be agile, with a willingness to fail fast and learn, and course correct as needed. Don’t throw away the things that made you successful to begin with, rather tune and optimise.”
Williams also notes that privacy must be at the top of the list. “Take the time to consider what the Privacy Act reform proposals could mean for your business in Australia”, he says. “Examine your current data practices and identify what might need to change, and consider what you will need to do to build and maintain trust with your customers.”
Finally, as research studies from the likes of Ebiquity and Analytic Partners have advocated, businesses should stay the course in uncertain times and keep the lights on, Williams adds. “Those organisations that continue to invest in brand building even when sales are under pressure recognise that their brand is important. If they cut their brand spend, it will take twice as long to get back to full brand health after going dark.”
Since the start, we’ve all experienced the benefits of the ad-supported internet, Rhys reflects. As consumers, we’re able to access the world’s information. As a part of the digital marketing industry, we’re able to find work opportunities and generate an income. To navigate changing consumer behaviours and digital marketing’s shifts in the ‘new abnormal’, businesses should embrace automation to realise profitable growth in a privacy-safe way. “Google has a number of solutions and specialist support to help businesses and their partners. We’d love to hear from you,” says Williams. 
If you’d like to learn more from Williams, follow him on LinkedIn. For more insights and inspiration to power your marketing, subscribe to Think with Google.
Think with Google is the place for compelling insights, big ideas, and creative inspiration. Digital innovation continues to propel the marketing industry forward at a mind-blowing pace. And as marketers, we rely on data, analysis, and insights to stay informed and inspired. Find data and trends, forward-looking perspectives, and behind-the-scenes looks at campaigns to inspire your marketing strategies on Think with Google.

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